The Future of Green Performance Cars

In perhaps the greatest twist of irony in automotive history, performance car enthusiasts have compelling reasons to welcome the hybrid era and beyond.

Performance car enthusiasts are a notoriously fickle bunch.

New/replacement models of past-proven and beloved performance cars are oftentimes received pessimistically. Changes in vehicle technology or a perceived change in company ethos are decried, condemned…

Porsche is a perfect example. If you didn’t get the memo, well, the death of the 911 officially occurred around the end of the 20th century when the changeover from 993 to 996 generation included a switch from air-cooled to water-cooled engines.

And then the Cayenne showed up, and that was definitely the last straw. Porsche had sold out, fallen victim to the profit motive, shifted its focus from driving enthusiasts to soccer moms.

Ever since then Porsche has been producing totally subpar sportscars that sell over list price (even used with thousands of miles and dwindling or non-existent warranty – why must you not depreciate 911 GT3, why?), setting Nurburgring production car lap records, as well as dominating just about every road racing series the world over.

Point is, enthusiast automotive doomsdayers have been around for generations and proven wrong many times before. And if you read certain forums and message boards nowadays, a similar undertone is forming, this time with regard to hybrid and “green” automotive technologies.

Thing is though, the cynicism and resistance on this pending automotive evolution is particularly silly since we don’t need to imagine how things will be once the performance car hybrid era officially arrives – the proof of awesomeness is already here.

Thanks to the brilliance and, so it would seem, recalcitrance of the engineers behind hypercars like the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, and LaFerrari, hybrid technology has gone from a purely environmental play to weaponized automotive tech. In fact, hybrid technology is surely the most significant engine/powertrain performance breakthrough in decades, never mind it being crucial to the very continuation of the performance automobile. How ironic and fortuitous is that?!

The congruence of rapidly developing battery technology and ever-tightening environmental restrictions on automobiles couldn’t be better-timed for performance car enthusiasts.

Rather than spelling the end of the performance car, hybrid technology is set to make them more powerful and more capable than ever before, as well as greener. A decade ago, who would have thought that a harmonious future between automotive enthusiasts and the most devout environmentalists would be possible?

And who would have thought that hybrid technology would create power plants that bear the most characteristic resemblance to the large displacement, naturally-aspirated engines of old?

That’s right, especially if you’re not a huge fan of the current forced induction era (this author included), hybrid power is the solution. It’s the antidote to the inherent power inconsistencies and deficient responsiveness associated with forced induction, turbocharged engines. Wherever these deficiencies occur in the rev range, hybrid electric power can be metered into the powertrain. The result is immediate responsiveness, uninterrupted power, and from an engineering perspective – greater, more readily accessible power potential than ever before.

Speaking on their P1, McLaren explains:

“The Instant Power Assist System is a powerful electric motor integrated into the powertrain. The motor weighs just 26kg and produces 179PS – more than double the power of a Formula 1™ KERS unit. It boosts performance, whether deployed through the IPAS button on the steering wheel or working automatically, but it also dramatically sharpens throttle response by filling the torque gap as the V8’s twin turbochargers spool up.” Cars.McLaren.com

Credible feedback on the P1 and associated hypercars is that the hybrid power adds to the experience of these autos. If hybrid tech can augment the driving experience in the world’s most extreme performance cars, then imagine its potential contribution to more common turbocharged engines.

(The McLaren P1 runs at a whopping 34.8 psi of turbo boost pressure, which under normal powertrain conditions would almost certainly create significant lag, yet reportedly power and responsiveness is instant throughout the rev range.)

So when will the performance car hybrid era get underway?

The latest speculation on the BMW G80 M3 and G82 M4 – due out in 2020-2021 – is that they will feature an evolution of the current gen’s forced induction system. No hybrid power.

Since Audi, BMW, and Mercedes performance divisions tend to parallel each other, it’s doubtful that the top-tier performance coupes and sedans will see hybrid tech for the coming generation.

That puts the timeline around 2025-2026. One can only imagine just how much battery technology will advance between now and then, including more power in smaller + lighter packaging.

If you’re not already sold on hybrid and green power, stay tuned. Eventually, we’ll all be forced to acknowledge the Toyota Prius as a seminal moment in performance automotive history…

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